Traveling in Sudan with Absolutely no Money

When crossing the border from Ethiopia to Sudan, I was only carrying a little bit of USD cash and did not know that it would be impossible to get more. After trying countless ATMs, where none were working, I found out that international credit/debit cards are not accepted, due to western sanctions just like in Iran.

After paying 35$ for a compulsory visa registration, a bus ticket to Khartoum, a sim card and some food I was out of money. I was laying in my tent in a hostel garden and decided that I would start selling my laptop, camping gear etc to get money for a visa and bus ticket to Egypt.

The first person I asked the next morning was Kim, a Korean traveler at my hostel who had been traveling for over three years and said “you don’t need money for traveling man!”. “People here in Sudan are so friendly that I never have to pay for anything!”.

In roadside restaurants like these it was easy finding leftover food

I took his tip of telling the hostel owners that I had run out of money, and to my surprise they just said that they fully understood and that I could stay there for free!

A typical Sudanese meal called Acida

Kim went on telling me that the stars always aligned so that he was able to travel for free, and a couple of hours later he was demonstrating this by taking me on a hitchhiking trip to the Meroe Pyramids.

Happy to have made it to the pyramids for free!

We got rides with over 10 trucks and cars, slept one night on top of a load of cement bags and one night on an outdoor bed that locals offered us, we drank the tap water, coffee, tea offered to us and ate mostly (fresh) leftovers that we found in roadside restaurants. Even when we got to the Meroe Pyramids and said that we didn’t have any money, so they let us in for free! (otherwise it is 20$ entry!).

We slept one of the nights on top of the cement bags of the truck that took us back to Khartoum

When we got back to Khartoum I met a Norwegian girl called Theresia who was cycling from South Africa to Norway and said that she had done the same mistake when arriving in Sudan. She advised me to contact my embassy where you can, in emergency situations wire money to withdraw. Walking out of there with cash in hand was quite a relief after being four days without money.

Sudan (together with Iran) has, in my opinion the most friendly people in the World. I do however understand that such hospitality should not be exploited and I aim to give back to make up for all the stuff I have received while being broke here.

10 Things You need to Know Before Going to Sudan

Researching information about Sudan has been a pain in the ass, as there is practically no updated information out there.

Here I provide you with the situation as of May 2018:

Money: There are no ATM’s accepting foreign debit/credit cards, so you have to bring enough cash to change once you are there. 1 US dollar equals 18 Sudanese Pounds official rate or 37-40 Sudanese Pounds on the black-market.

If you can’t afford a hotel room, the staff will usually put out a bed for you

Sleeping: Outside of Khartoum there are just a few sleeping options in every town. In small towns you will only find so called “lokandas” (guesthouses) where locals go to get a bed for less than 1USD. Hotel rooms start at around 15$ and Khartoum has a HI hostel for less than 2$ for a dorm bed.

Foul is the staple food here consisting of fava beans, bread and egg.

Eating: Food is simple and cheap. You can get falafels and schwarmas for less than 20 cents. Foul (picture above) costs about 50cents. Other traditional meals which mainly consists of beans and meat would set you back 1-2 dollars.

Drinking: Alcohol is forbidden. Tap water is generally safe to drink and people will offer it to you everywhere, but there has been cases of cholera even in the capital.

There are some new Chinese trains and buses in addition to the beat up vans uses as minibuses

Transport: There is currently a gas shortage so buses leave less frequently and sometimes charge over double of normal price which should be around 2$ per hour on long drive buses and 10 cents for bus rides in the city. You will usually get your own seat which is an upgrade from East Africa where they squeeze in as many as possible. Hitchhiking is also easy and common!

People: Sudanese are the most friendly people I have come across. People always try to offer food and sometimes try to pay for stuff you are buying. You really have to insist on paying because most people here have very little, and can go too far to make you welcome.

Safety: Except for Darfur and Kordofan Sudan is one of the safest countries in Africa! Most people are poor, so pick pocketing can happen, but you will see people being polite and respectful towards you as a foreigner. You will also see people are genuinely interested hearing about life in your country so pictures of your house, family etc can be good to have ready on your phone.

Weather: One of the hottest countries I have ever visited. When walking around the pyramids in 46 degrees celcius it is crucial to bring enough water.

Visas: Have become much easier and once you have the visa you will no longer need travel permits to go anywhere in Sudan. I got mine the next day from the Embassy in Addis who just wanted 68$ and an application form, but most embassies will ask for a invitation letter which can be given by your host/hotels like Acropole. Visas has to be registered withing 72hrs of arrival for a 30$ fee.

Religion: Most people are muslim. The few times I walked in shorts I was given extra attention, so I ended up wearing pants the rest of my stay. If you are a girl get a hijab. It is not required by law, but 99% of the people here still wear it.

It is not certain how long Sudan will stay in its current state, but this is what you should expect if you are coming here during times of political sanctions, currency black market and gas shortages.

Is there any info you are missing, or did you have another experience when visiting Sudan? Feel free to write a comment below!

 

The Touts and Towers in Gondar

If you ask me, it is more impressive what Gondar was and not so much what Gondar is today. The city in North West used to be the capitol of Etiopia (from 1632 to 1835) and the Royal Enclosure is still a proof of that, even after earthquakes and British bombings before UNESCO made it a heritage site in 1979.

Entrance to the site was 300(11$) for adults, 75(3$) for students or free if you just walked in the unguarded gate from the Piassa. Having a lonely planet guide let me follow a map and the stories of each building, if I didn’t have that it would have made sense paying another 10$ to have a guide.

Except for the fortified Royal Enclosure sites and some churches, there was not much to see and do in Gonder. It’s more a place where people stop to break up a journey from Southern Ethiopia to North or from Ethiopia to Sudan.

I was there trying to get a bus ticket and some Sudanese Pounds to prepare for the border crossing and was so lucky to meet Abrish and Solomon, who were quick to show me around the bus station, showing me the bus which they were working on ans helping me exchange money at the “best possible” rates. They walked with me for hours, sold me a ticket for 3usd and afterwards told me that they would pick me up from my couchsurfing host at 4.30 in the morning.

I waited outside at 4am but noone came, and at 5am I started walking and hitchhiking to the bus station which was almost 30km away while trying to call them. But with no answers.

I am used to getting ripped off once in a while, but was really upset to have thought that I had gotten new friends who were genuinely trying to help me, just to see them cheat me for such a small sum! I wish I could have given them the money as I must say the loss of trust hurt more than the loss of the three dollars.

Abrish and Solomon. If you see them in Gondar then stay away!

A Free Visit to Lalibela

I know some might be angry at me for posting a recipe for how to get into Lalibela for free, but for the backpackers, students and people like me, who were considering skipping a visit to the churches because of the hefty 50$ entrance fee it might be good, because you HAVE TO visit Lalibela.

A ticket (which look like this) is valid for four days, while most people just visit the churches one or two days. That means, if you go to a bar and buy some beers for any tourist, most likely he will agree to give you his used ticket before he leaves town. That’s what I did, and the guards checking the tickets never asked to see my passport, so I could walk around freely without feeling that I had been sneaking in.

Lalibela truly is an amazing place. It’s a town in Northern Ethiopia with 11 rock hewn churches dating back to the 12th and 13th century, Making them some of Africas oldest.

Before going there I had only seen pictures of St. George, which I thought was not even the most impressive! I was simply blown away as we discovered the churches in by one, walking through tunnels, over bridges etc to see all this beautiful work carved into the mountain. It was just as impressive as the World wonder Petra in Jordan. I therefore think Lalibela deserves the title as “the Eight Wonder of the World”.

Bahir Dar, “the Ethiopian Riviera”

Originally my plan was to go straight from Addis to Gondar, but when I was asking the buses at 4 o’clock in the morning, all of them were fully booked, but there was a seat available to Bahir Dar, and I must say I’m glad that I did it that way.

Bahir Dar is often called the Ethiopian Riviera, mainly because of the flat streets by the lake with palm trees lined up by the road. The city is a popular destination both for international and local tourists, people who come to enjoy the many hotels and restaurants the small town has to offer and to see the monasteries which are only reachable by boat. It also used to be very popular for tourists to go visit the Blue Nile Falls, but when the government built a huge dam they apparently destroyed that tourist magnet.

A traditional papyrus boat on Lake Tana

My couchsurfing host was working in the tourism business and hooked me up with a free room at NGG hotel and a free boat trip on lake Tana.

People painting the walls of Ura Kidane which recently had a fire

It took us about two hours to reach the Zeke peninsula where the Bete Selassie and Ura Kidane Meret monasteries were located. Just like all the monasteries on Lake Tana they were round with colorful walls on the inside. The tour continued to the Kibran island for St. Gabriel Monastery and Entos Eyesu Monastery Island, but as each of them had a 3eur entrance, me and two other tourists decided to just relax on the two last islands.

The highlight of the stay was chatting with the neighbors of my host who invited me for dark, homemade barley beer and watching a traditional dance show in the evening.

Drinking local, dark barley beer at my hosts place

Traditional Ethiopian dancing at Belageru Cultural Club